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Comparing Skylight Frames: Material Matters

July 1, 2020

The many benefits of skylights have established them as a staple of architecture all throughout the world, and as time’s gone on, the advantages they offer have only increased.

For instance, today’s skylights are about more than just making the most of natural lighting, enhancing the aesthetics of roof-bearing rooms, and bringing down the electricity bill (not that those elements aren’t much appreciated).

Due to ongoing enhancements in their structural design—and innovations in the manufacturing techniques behind them like Reaction Injection Molding (RIM)—modern skylights are now insulative enough to control the flow of air and heat, and are durable enough to perform for over twenty years without being given a second thought or a touch of maintenance.

But there are countless skylight models out there, and not all of them are capable of delivering the same levels of performance. That’s because at the end of the day, it’s largely the material that a skylight is made from which determines how effectively it performs.

To that point, we recently spent some time talking about the different types of glass that are used in contemporary skylights. Though at the same time, it can’t be ignored that glass panes are only half the equation, and are no good without supportive frames to set them in.

Keeping that in mind, here’s some of the most common types of framing materials you’ll see skylights made from on the market today and the key properties they lend.

1. Wood Skylight Frames

Wooden skylights constructed from different types of timber were much more commonly installed in previous decades. Still, if one’s willing to put up with their higher costs, and with the upkeep required to maintain them, wood skylights can act as a very appealing addition to a home.


There are many resilient wood types out there, and skylights made from them can stand well against certain environmental conditions such as heavy snowfall. If well maintained and waterproofed, rain damage can also be prevented.

However, direct damages—whether from accidental impacts or natural occurrences like hail—will have little trouble causing dents and other marks of trauma.


Wood frame skylights are prone to leakage over time, especially when their maintenance is neglected. Whether its water getting through or air seeping out, wooden skylight owners should be wary that these conditions often develop over time.

Long-Term Use

Like all wood-types that are consistently exposed to the elements, a timber-framed skylight will need to be treated with a fair bit of frequency. Because they are prone to peeling, cracking, or fading, wood frames should be inspected annually and touched up as needed.

2. Metal Skylight Frames

Metal skylights are constructed from all kinds of compounds, including everything from aluminum to steel. Most notable about them, however, is how metal skylights tend to be much more conductive (meaning they transfer heat more than any of their other material counterparts).


Strong metals like steel will be able to take brunt force better than softer metals, such as aluminum, though all are still susceptible to denting—and that kind of damage can become detrimental if it builds up over time. In areas where frequent hail fall is an issue additional tarps may need to be laid over metal skylights, or cages may need to be installed, to protect their framing.


Metal skylights tend to offer the least insulation between framing types, and depending on the heat and humidity of their environment, metals like aluminum which conduct energy especially well can undergo buildups of condensation that lead to interior water drips.

Furthermore, if ever physically damaged, it’s also possible for separations to form between a metal skylight’s frame and glazing. This can easily result in unwanted leakage, which if left unchecked, will worsen over time.

Long-Term Use

Metal skylights don’t usually require as much attention as wood models do. Still, they do need to be inspected every so often for gradual wear and tear like loose fixings, or whenever some sort of injury to the skylight is suspected.

It also must be remembered that with metal frames developing damages can be subtle enough to go unnoticed until they become a much larger problem, and at that point repair may no longer be an option.

3. Plastic Skylight Frames

Plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have remained some of the most popular skylight construction materials on the market for their relatively lower costs than wood or metal. For instance, you’ll often see older skylight models with panes made from acrylic plastic, and frames made of PVC plastic at the same time.


While plastic is a cheaper and easier material to produce, it is also much more vulnerable to general damages.

These fragile skylights dent under even the smallest impacts, and their durability degrades over time, making them poor at sustaining any real weight and in danger of easy shattering.


To protect against direct sunlight plastic skylight frames often have a bronze cap on the outside that helps prevent harmful ultraviolet radiation from getting through.

However, similar to metal frames, plastic skylights are prone to experience leakage over time—and how badly they do can be easily influenced by impacts.

Long-Term Performance

Compared to the other options available today, a plastic skylight will likely mean either more frequent upkeep, a replacement before too long, or learning to tolerate an ever-degrading skylight performance.

At the very least, it’s recommended that PVC skylights are cleaned of debris and addressed for general maintenance needs once a year.

4. Aliphatic Polyurethane Skylight Frames

It might be a mouthful to say, but aliphatic polyurethane frames are changing the world of skylights in radical ways.

That’s because the RIM framing processes behind this powerful manmade material have inspired a new kind of solid-state skylight model where every part of the design is formed into one singular piece. That means there’s no additional screws or fastenings keeping things together, the frame and the glass are a single unified piece, and designs can be constructed in unique shapes to fit any roof space that they’re meant to fill.

Though perhaps best of all, the streamlined production method behind these aliphatic polyurethane skylights allows them to be offered at lower cost to customers than ever before.


It’s no exaggeration to say that solid-state aliphatic polyurethane frames are the strongest commercial skylight material known to man, with the highest hail and trauma protection ratings around.

In short, these frames can perform without fail during hurricanes, act as a blast resistant barrier, and even provide ballistic protection.


In truth, it’s the lack of vulnerabilities that make aliphatic polyurethane frames so exceptional.

These solid-state models are completely leak proof, highly insulative, and can’t even be removed. This means there is no chance of unwanted access from the outside short of breaking the glass—but with such high durability ratings that’s easier said than done.

Long-Term Performance

Not only are solid-state aliphatic polyurethane skylights easier to install, once they’re in place they’ll never require any further attention. There are no maintenance needs required, which means owners can rest easy and enjoy their skylight’s performance forevermore.

The performance of RIM-empowered aliphatic polyurethane is so strong and reliable, skylight providers can now confidently offer 20-year transferable warranties on their models at no great risk to themselves or their customers.

Four Contenders, One Clear Champion

With four popularly used material types, it’s plain to see that skylight shoppers have a few options to consider for themselves.

Though as manufacturing methods have evolved in recent years, aliphatic polyurethane models have had no trouble establishing themselves as an obvious superior. With the greater advantages they provide at a lower cost for purchase—aside from novelty’s sake—the appeals of wood, metal, and vinyl skylights are easily getting outshined.

But of course, it’s always best to see for oneself! To check out the capabilities that solid-state aliphatic polyurethane skylights offer, feel free to look over the incredible models Vtech offers here.

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